HOME  DISINFORMATION  PLUNDER  PLUNDER WEALTH
Stefan Korshak   Kyiv Post   22-May-1998   Hurvits is our bandit
"The mayor has been engaged in all-out battle for years with Odessa Region Administrator Ruslan Bodelan, a Kuchma appointee who unsuccessfully challenged Hurvits in the recent mayoral election.  The election campaign was perhaps the most violent of the many races throughout the country, with numerous cases of intimidation, assault and even murder." Stefan Korshak
External link to Kyiv PostExternal link to Kyiv Post

Kyiv pushes Odessa mayor to political brink

By Stefan Korshak
POST STAFF WRITER

22 May 1998

The central government this week pulled the rug out from under fiercely independent Odessa Mayor Eduard Hurvits, with the Supreme Court Wednesday voiding his March 29 re-election and the Kuchma administration publicly signaling that it might impose presidential rule in the city.

The High Court upheld an Odessa Region court's decision last week voiding Hurvit's election to a second four-year term as mayor.  The regional court had ruled that the Odessa City Electoral Commission, mostly made up of Hurvits appointees, had not evenly applied election laws.

On Monday, a 200-strong government commission led by Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko visited Odessa to investigate the election in particular and the Hurvits administration in general.  Reporting back to President Leonid Kuchma the next day, Pustovoitenko came down in support of the initial court decision and sharply criticized the way the mayor was running the city.

Pustovoitenko told reporters Monday that direct presidential rule was an option, and that Kuchma would take up the matter on Friday.

As for Hurvits' re-election, he said there were "clear violations".  He called Odessa the most crime-infested city in the country.

Pustovoitenko also said: "I met twice with Eduard Hurvits concerning the various problems which have developed over time.  But it was not possible to find a way to resolve them."

To long-time observers of Odessa politics, the fast-moving developments had all the appearances of a concerted push by Kyiv authorities to clip Hurvits' wings, and possibly to depose him.  The mayor has been engaged in all-out battle for years with Odessa Region Administrator Ruslan Bodelan, a Kuchma appointee who unsuccessfully challenged Hurvits in the recent mayoral election.  The election campaign was perhaps the most violent of the many races throughout the country, with numerous cases of intimidation, assault and even murder.

It was not immediately clear what would happen following Wednesday's Supreme Court decision.  The Post could not confirm Hurvits' whereabouts at press time Thursday.  The Bodelan camp, meanwhile, expressed its desire for a quick re-run of the mayoral election.

"By law, the Odessa City Council must meet and take action now that the results of the last election have been nullified," said Odessa Regional Administration spokesman Yuri Shiroparov.  "I can see no other alternative but to hold the elections again."

The rumblings from Kyiv were potentially more worrisome for Hurvits.  In its Tuesday edition, the official Cabinet newspaper, Uryadovy Kurier, carried a press release from the presidential administration reporting on the situation in Odessa.  The term "presidential rule" was used several times.

"Numerous appeals have come to the President of Ukraine from citizens requesting that resolute measures be taken to normalize the situation in the city of Odessa and Odessa region," ran the press release.

It went on to call the city financially unstable, with large-scale money machinations by officials and a consistent pattern of individual city employees misusing their positions for financial gain.  It said the city remained a hotbed of activity by criminal gangs, with many high-profile contract killings unsolved.  The press release also noted that many Odessa municipal employees haven't been paid for six months, and that poverty is widespread.  The press release went on to propose solutions, including presidential rule, replacement of many city employees, a general audit of city government, and an overhaul of the local tax system.

Hurvits, who was also re-elected to his Parliament seat on March 29, was in Kyiv Tuesday.

"Lies, pure lies," he told a Post reporter when asked about the accusations in the press release.

Hurvits, apparently attacking the character of Kyiv authorities, went on: "I'm here to discuss the situation in Odessa, but I have to say that the nicest people in this town [Kyiv] are the bandits."

Odessa observers say that Hurvits and Bodelan have been warring over money and power.  Hurvits has been linked by Bodelan supporters to Chechen organized crime, while Hurvits partisans contend that Bodelan, the last Soviet-era Communist Party chairman for Odessa Region, has long-standing ties to more established Georgian and Russian criminal gangs.

"Money attracts criminals," said Vechernyaya Odessa reporter Alla Kolesik.  "And in Odessa there's an awful lot of money."

The city has visibly grown wealthier since the early 1990's, with significant revenue being generated by privatization and the shipping, energy and food processing industries.  By comparison, many other Ukrainian towns remain completely impoverished.

Yet Odessa has been chronically unable to pay its utility bills, make pension payments, and transfer revenue to the central government.  Officials in Kyiv ask why this continues to be the case.

"It's not that the money isn't there," said Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov, speaking in Parliament about all of the country's regions and cities.  "But that the central government's share isn't being collected."

Another Odessa money matter irking Kyiv officials is a highly successful Hr 61 million ($30 million) city bond issue at 50 percent annual interest.  Placed on offer last May, payments are now due.

Securities monitors have called the issue irregular.  After the Pustovoitenko visit, Odessa officials halted bond redemption payments.

Despite his long-standing fight with Bodelan, Odessans tend to approve of Hurvits.  Trash is picked up, foreign investment is rising, and new taxis ply newly paved roads.  Significantly, jobs are being preserved in some of the industries enjoying a comeback.

"I voted for Hurvits," said Odessa pensioner Rita Vilvovskaya.  "He cleaned up the streets and renewed the city center.  Only an idiot would petition the president [to investigate city administration]."

"Hurvits may be a bandit," said a shipping professional and long-time Odessa resident.  "But the economy is in good shape.  Besides, he's our bandit."


HOME  DISINFORMATION  PLUNDER  PLUNDER WEALTH